Lots of ominous signs in the news these days. North Korea is preparing to immolate Manhattan or launch a cyber attack against the online reservations systems of Nobu and Daniel to send New York’s well-healed foodies into a tizzy (not sure why they’d need to go to any of that trouble after simply sending Dennis Rodman back). Assad may be using chemical weapons against Syrian rebels. A Kardashian is apparently pregnant (with a reality fetus), Lindsay Lohan is still Lindsay Lohan, and the Virgin Mary appeared on a taco shell. I’d be truly impressed if she showed up in the gelatinous coating surrounding Spam. To each his own when it comes to Holy signs.
That got me thinking about craft beer (you wondered – me too – if I was going make that connection somehow). Specifically, I started thinking about my term for the rare, the mythical, the “ungettable” craft beers: Holy Ales. I wrote about one of my Quests for a Holy Ale last week but realized that I’d never given the topic of Holy Ales all that much thought. Why are some Holy and others just spectacularly pious (really good)? Is it all about the beer itself or is there something more? A matter of faith or a matter of taste?
I figured the best way to understand how a beer achieves Holy Ale status would be to take a look at the ones already on my altar:
- Russian River Pliny The Younger
- Three Floyds Dark Lord
- Deschutes The Abyss
- Surly Darkness
- Bell’s Hopslam
- Founders KBS and CBS
- Alchemist Heady Topper
- Ballast Point Sculpin
- Rogue Voodoo Doughnut (since defrocked)
- Stone/Maui Coconut Macadamia Porter
That’s not the whole list but it was enough to get me started in trying to identify common traits implying Holiness (aside from the fact that darkness and evil seem to be tickets to my craft beer heaven. Probably won’t be sharing this list with my Rabbi over a pint of He’Brew Glorious Jewbelation during Hanukkah).
First of all, there’s virtually no chance that any two craft beer fans will have identical lists of Holy Ales – just too many choices and too many varied tastes out there. Regional availability plays a huge role as well. In simplest terms, it’s all about basic economics but on a very personal scale: Supply vs. Personal Demand. Milton Friedman had it figured out a long time ago and probably tweaked his theories at the Map Room Pub.
So now that I have the basics down (sort of), here are my Rules for attaining Holy Ale status. Thine craft beer mayest be worshipped as Holy upon satisfactory passage of the following (and I’m not calling these commandments because I’m already in enough trouble and don’t want to be pummeled by frogs – I’m wearing red today and would end up looking like a Jewish Christmas Tree – like I said: enough trouble already):
- AVAILABILITY (or lack thereof). Goes without saying that scarcity is a huge factor. If you can your hands on a particular brew almost anytime you want , it just doesn’t feel “special”, though it may still be spectacularly pious.
- GEOGRAPHY. Relates to availability. What’s rare and difficult to get in one area may be a snap to obtain somewhere else. I don’t have Troegs Nugget Nectar on my list primarily because I can get plenty of it out here when its available – I love it. It’s a special IPA. I know many people think it belongs in the conversation with Hopslam, Pliny & Jai Alai. If I lived in Fon Du Lac it would be Holy but I don’t, so it’s just a really fine sinner.
- REGULARLY (even if sparingly and only occasionally) BREWED. That’s my way of saying one-offs don’t count. I’m primarily talking about firkins. Some of them are fantastic and highly prized but if we allowed them to attain Holiness the craft beer scene would resemble Pete Townshend’s prescient lyrics of Exquisitely Bored in California: “pray TV looks like pay TV to me.” In other words, there’d be too many Holy Ales preaching from the tap handles and we’d have a hard time finding our true prophets over profits.
I actually had a few other factors but then recognized that they all related to personal taste and that’s really where every craft beer geek’s list is going to go their separate ways. I’ll never worship a Barley Wine, Belgian Tripel, or Doppelbock but others may brand me a blasphemous heretic for my beatification of IPAs or Double IPAs.
At the end of the day we all see the Holy Ale signs we want to see in the lacing. I’m still waiting for the Stone Gargoyle to appear in mine.
What about your Holy Ales? Agree or disagree with my rules? File an appeal with a comment…